Cumbria coal mine: is a net-zero compliant fossil fuel industry possible?
10 February 2021
West Cumbria council’s controversial approval of the Woodhouse Colliery, the first deep coal mine to open in the UK for over 30 years, is now bein reconsidered “in light of new information on proposed greenhouse gas targets for the 2030s”. Scientists, climate policy experts and campaigners had argued the mine was inconsistent with the government’s own aim to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
In their article in The Conversation Myles Allen and Nathalie Seddon consider if there could be a way to transform this into a flagship project for the world’s net zero future.
The Woodhouse Colliery would produce coking coal, which fuels the blast furnaces in steelworks. Unlike thermal coal (used to generate electricity), coal-based steel-making is still significantly cheaper than alternatives such as hydrogen. It may still make sense to use coking coal in blast furnaces in a world with net zero greenhouse gas emissions – provided, of course, they are fitted with robust carbon dioxide capture and storage technology.
Options might include storing the carbon in Cumbria’s peatlands or native forests. Restoring and protecting these natural carbon sinks is important for many reasons such as supporting biodiversity and alleviating flooding. It would also be much cheaper than injecting carbon dioxide below ground. But restoring and sustainably managing all the UK’s peatlands would take up only 60% of the carbon dioxide released by the Woodhouse Colliery’s coal by 2050. However, climate change could potentially turn these ecosystems into sources of emissions as soils warm and wildfires become more frequent.
Another option would be for the colliery to work with customers, such as the British Steel plant in Scunthorpe, to capture the carbon dioxide produced by their blast furnaces and dispose of it under the North Sea through schemes such as the Zero Carbon Humber project.
While the carbon capture projects may decrease profits initially, they would open the door to future possibilities and the creation of hundreds of jobs in the north of England.
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